Realizing that teenagers sending each other nude photos of one another is now part of dating, I submit the following for your contemplation. On February 12th of this year, the northwest Chicagoland chapter of Voice of the Faithful attended a workshop on the global exploitation of children sponsored by the Des Plaines Park District and Maryville Academy. The workshop was presented by former Cook County detective and now international consultant on the subject Robert Hugh Farley, http://child-abuse-training-consulting.com/
Mr. Farley’s most poignant comment, I thought, was what he tells young people post facto. They always ask him, usually in tears or near to regardless of gender, “Can you get the pictures back (from the internet, taken either by themselves or their abusers while abusing them)?” Out of compassion, Mr. Farley always politely lies to them and says, “I’ll try.”
In my work with young people, one of the most difficult concepts to communicate to them is that in 2009, and every other time for that matter, but they are focused on the now, the concept of sin is not one of just trying to poop the party. Rather, those behaviors we term as “sinful” are not just the truly tempting things in life, they are, but that the avoidance of sin is more than just theology and killjoy. I guess like so much in adult life, it takes negative experience to appreciate this fact. It certainly does and did for me.
Sin has a practical side, completely distinguishable and viewable and appreciable outside of theology. You could, almost, disengage the two, but the logic which makes sense would be broken. You would lose the meaning of why these behaviors with predictability have the tragic consequences they do, here and now, on this earth, in the “real” world, and then also in the next.
Sin is insidious, at least in my experience. Always starting very small. So small, the sinner, like me, can easily justify and dismiss it, like an annoying fly. I’m not aware of big sinners who started big. Everybody starts small, and if unchecked by the graces, the church would say, of the spiritual disciplines and sacraments it offers for our benefit, sin can grow very big. The lie gets bigger. The lie we tell ourselves and others. Sin, in my experience, always grows by degrees until it consumes us and we forget how we got there. We remember how small and easily we started and we realize how profoundly we have been deceived by the Prince of Lies and by ourselves. I am always so ashamed of myself when I come to that point of realization, not how I was duped again, but how I let myself be duped again. I wanted to be duped, and I knew better. And I knew even as I began exactly what I was doing. That was the temptation and the lie. I wanted to be duped and embrace my sin = giving in to temptation.
Engaging in those behaviors us old fogey squares like me call sinful, and I am, deeply regrettably, a regular partaker, does lead to undesired and even tragic consequences. Theology does not just go out and name every appearing pleasure in life sinful. Those acts deemed sinful have to really earn their title, even deadly. Sin is out of fashion from almost all homilies I have heard in my life. We don’t want to become Jansenists, but neither should we deny the reality.
The daughter of a poor Italian tenant farmer from Corinado, Ancona, Italy, Maria Goretti had no chance to go to school, never learned to read or write. Her father died while she was still very young and her mother struggled to feed her children. When she made her First Communion not long before her death at age 12, she was one of the larger and somewhat backward members of the class.
On a hot afternoon in July, Maria was sitting at the top of the stairs of her house, mending a shirt. She was not quite 12 years old, but physically mature. A cart stopped outside, and a neighbor, Alessandro, 18 years old, ran up the stairs. He seized her and pulled her into a bedroom. She struggled and tried to call for help. “No, God does not wish it,” she cried out. “It is a sin. You would go to hell for it.” Maria told Alessandro she would rather die than submit. Alessandro began striking at her blindly with a long dagger.
Maria was taken to a hospital. Her last hours were marked with care for others: her mother and her attacker. She forgave Alessandro while she lay dying.
Alessandro was sentenced to 30 years in prison. For a long time he was unrepentant and surly. One night he had a dream or vision of Maria, gathering flowers and offering them to him. His life changed. When he was released after 27 years, his first act was to go to beg the forgiveness of Maria’s mother. “If my daughter can forgive him, who am I to withhold forgiveness,” she said. Alessandro spent the remaining years of his life in a Capuchin monastery at age 88.
Devotion to Maria grew, particularly in regard to advocacy for the young and the many truly dangerous alternatives and choices they must navigate, now more than ever, and with the speed of light. She is the patroness of youth and of rape victims. At her beatification in 1947, her mother (then 82), two sisters and a brother appeared with Pope Pius XII on the balcony of St. Peter’s. Three years later, at her canonization, a 66-year-old Alessandro Serenelli knelt among the quarter-million people and cried tears of joy.
The Church admires and honors Maria Goretti not primarily because of her strong desire not to commit sin, but primarily for her solicitude of her offender while on earth and afterwards.
I know I’m crazy, but I am already starting to form the words in my mind for “talks” with Mara, trying to discern the right age, years from now and how I might say the words she will remember in her moments of truth. I remembered when I was offered drugs in the locker room at Middle Township High School how much my parents loved me, and the firm knowledge of that love gave me the strength to say “no” then. I hope and trust and pray I can give Mara similar assurance of her parents’ love for her and that will give her strength in her moments of truth.
O Saint Maria Goretti! Who, strengthened by God’s grace, did not hesitate even at the age of twelve to shed your blood and sacrifice life itself to defend your virginal purity, look graciously on the unhappy human race which has strayed far from the path of eternal salvation. Teach us all, and especially youth, with what courage and promptitude we should flee for the love of Jesus anything that could offend Him or stain our souls with sin. Obtain for us from our Lord victory in temptation, comfort in the sorrows of life, and the grace which we earnestly beg of thee (here insert intention), and may we one day enjoy with thee the imperishable glory of Heaven. Amen.
Prayer to St Maria Goretti before a dance or party
Dear Saint Maria Goretti! The world teaches that we must please others in order to be popular. Conscience demands that I please God more than one who asks an evil thing in the name of false love. Teach me by your example to instill into others a real respect for modesty and purity. Through your powerful intercession, help me to make of this evening an occasion for helping others to become spiritually stronger. Grant that others may see in me reason to change their ways, if that be necessary, and that I may have the courage to resist any temptation to sinful conduct. Let others be led closer to Jesus and Mary by my example.
Oh Little Saint who wanted to be popular only with your Divine Master and His Blessed Mother, help me to imitate you. Amen.
Prayer Before a Date
Saint Maria Goretti! Teach me that God must be my first love and that all other love is based on Him and Him alone. Obtain for me the grace to cease toying with the occasions of sin and to remember that my body and the bodies of all in grace are temples of the Holy Spirit, destined someday for a glorious resurrection.
Through your beautiful example, teach me the value and dignity of Christian modesty. Grant that I may never be the occasion of dragging others into sin, by suggestive words or evil deeds of any kind. Through the merits of your martyrdom, obtain for me the grace to turn aside from sin, no matter what the cost, so that one day I may enjoy Heaven with you and all the other saints. Amen.
St. Maria Goretti, pray for us and for all young people! Deliver us from evil!